“Rapunzel and the Great Tree” starts off with a flashback to the dying king introduced at the beginning of “Beyond the Corona Walls.” Adira and Quirin bicker over whether to locate the Sundrop and use its power to combat the spread of the rocks when a mysterious third figure states that if Adira does pursue the Sundrop, he’ll end her for being a traitor. In the present day, Rapunzel and Cass are on a recon mission that turns into a race. Against Cassandra’s advice, Rapunzel and Maximus jump across a canyon, barely making it. Once they reunite with their companions, the figure from the earlier flashback is pursuing them. Adira intervenes, saving them, and they decide to intentionally crash the carriage into a ravine to escape. Adira reveals that the man’s name is Hector, and he’s a member of the Brotherhood, an organization that also includes Adira and keeps the secret of the moonstone. They go into the Great Tree, an ancient, enchanted path to the Dark Kingdom. Lance and Eugene get separated from the others and encounter some hallucinogenic plants. Max tries to save them, but gets intoxicated himself; Pascal frees the three and reassembles the group.
Meanwhile, Rapunzel and friends find runes on the wall that match her map to the Dark Kingdom; one is the Sundrop healing incantation we all know, and the other is an incantation for the Moonstone, the source of the rocks. She’s possessed and begins repeatedly chanting the Moonstone’s incantation. Adira manages to release Rapunzel and end the deadly spell, prompting jealousy and guilt from Cassandra. Cass encourages Rapunzel to lead the group out of the tree and away from Adira, a suggestion that angers Rapunzel; she lashes out, saying that nobody is being left behind and that’s final. The confrontation salts Cassandra’s wounds, and she muses on her memory of showing Rapunzel around and becoming friends when she first arrived in Corona. Eventually, Rapunzel apologizes for snapping but says that she will have to make big decisions and needs Cass to understand and support her. Hector finds the group yet again and manages to incapacitate Adira. Just as he’s about to strike at Rapunzel and Eugene, Cassandra jumps in with a parry. Eventually, he overcomes her as well, and against Cass’ advice, Rapunzel again uses the dark incantation to stop him and save everyone. Cassandra reaches out to release Rapunzel from the spell: she succeeds, but her arm is scarred in the process. Hector lives but falls into a deep cavern, into which Adira follows him, encouraging Rapunzel to stay on her path to the Dark Kingdom. Rapunzel apologizes profusely to Cassandra, who simply remarks that it won’t happen again. Rapunzel decides to continue pursuing the rocks to the Dark Kingdom and her destiny.
“Rapunzel and the Great Tree” seems like the kind of episode I was expecting instead of “Happiness Is” or “Max and Eugene in Peril on the High Seas.” This is the first episode I can remember opening with a “previously on” segment, and it’s fitting, as it’s the first one since “Beyond the Corona Walls” to really connect with the show’s overall plot. Most TV series have some filler, but this is honestly ridiculous. These shows usually have between 20 and 26 episodes in a season (last season was 21), so resuming the plot from episode 1 in episode 14 is a bit of a stretch. I normally appreciate shows (and movies) that can handle both light comedy and more serious drama, but I don’t like how Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure balances the two; specifically, it doesn’t balance them at all. Rather than having comedic moments in a more dramatic episode or vice versa, this series had one serious, plot-driven episode, and then twelve mostly comedic side adventures before returning to the overarching story. Season one balanced comedy and drama, as well as plot and filler, much better than this. However, that’s a problem with this season as a whole, not this week’s episode. Let’s take a look.
“Rapunzel and the Great Tree” feels very much like a season or mid-season premiere. It’s the first episode since the break to feature a musical number (three counting Eugene and Lance’s “Buddy,” Cassandra’s “Waiting in the Wings,” and Rapunzel’s “Hurt Incantation”), and at least the most serious in tone since “Happiness Is…” Visually, this episode is pretty interesting, and I love the design and concept of the Great Tree. I also quite like Hector’s character design, and Kim Coates’ voice is perfectly creepy. Honestly, I wish they had introduced Hector in the flashback opening of “Beyond the Corona Walls;” if he’s meant to be the new main antagonist or even just a recurring one, I’d have preferred if we had seen him at least once before. And that would have made perfect sense, as King Edmond, Adira, and Quirin were all featured/introduced in that episode. The musical score by Kevin Fleisch really gets to shine in “Rapunzel and the Great Tree,” especially when the group first comes upon the tree, and at the very end when they continue their journey. As for the songs, as a group, they’re analogous to the series’ songs overall: a mixed bag. “Hurt Incantation” is an inversion of “Healing Incantation,” and for the most part, I like the concept and execution, though I would have maybe gone with “Harming Incantation” or something that sounds less awkward for the title. The animation on Rapunzel when she becomes possessed is also really creepy and effective. I really like “Buddy” and the interplay between Eugene and Lance before and during the song. Its sound and visuals are over-the-top silly, but it fits because of who’s singing and because those flowers essentially got them high.
The worst of the three is definitely “Waiting in the Wings;” it’s supposed to be this huge character moment for Cassandra, but it doesn’t feel justified by what’s come before, and honestly, it’s just not a very good song. When this sequence came on, my dad asked from the other room why we were listening to a bad Celine Dion ripoff. The song does give another rare moment of spotlight to Eden Espinosa’s beautiful singing voice, but it’s really kind of a waste. If it was a better song, this could have been an emotional moment in the episode, and even more so if it was earned by what had come before in the episode and the season as a whole. Cass sings about wanting glory and being a hero, but she’s had plenty of opportunities to show off and typically takes those chances. If anything, she usually gets to be “right,” with other characters apologizing to her, even when it doesn’t seem fair to the viewer. I must confess that I also find it difficult in general to feel sympathy for someone who’s basically saying “Boo hoo, woe is me, Adira was better than me at something and I didn’t get showered in praise for once.” I don’t find Cassandra to be a very likable character in general; she treats Rapunzel with condescension, and often the show treats her as though she’s right and Rapunzel is wrong when the opposite feels true. She knocks heads with Adira, Eugene, Lance, and pretty much everyone the troupe encounters. It is a badass moment in the very end when she emerges clad in armor after her hand is injured, and I guess it is admirable to risk such an injury to save Rapunzel. But all things considered, she’s just not an enjoyable character, and it feels like this huge Broadway-style “I Want” song is unwarranted and unjustified. I don’t understand why she keeps trying to get rid of Adira anyway; she tells Rapunzel that Adira is a threat and must be working against them, but come on, she’s only saved all your butts like three times now! I don’t even like Adira much, but Cassandra’s behavior toward her is totally unnecessary.
Speaking of Cassandra, her flashback to Rapunzel arriving as the Lost Princess is intriguing. This is the kind of thing I live for; I love backstory and character motivation, and this was their explanation of the friendship between Cassandra and Rapunzel. In this flashback, Cass gifts Rapunzel with a purse to keep her supplies in, and I think it’s an effective moment, as well as them deciding to address each other with their first names instead of titles. This is really a nitpick, but similar to what I said about Hector, I just wish we had seen Rapunzel carrying this bag before. It feels like some elements that “have always been there” are emerging out of the blue in “Rapunzel and the Great Tree” to make things seem more meaningful than they are. I also don’t understand what this flashback has to do with Cassandra’s song that ultimately amounts to a self-absorbed, whiny temper tantrum. Regardless, it’s an effective flashback and a benefit to the episode and story overall. I frequently find myself wondering why these two are even friends, so I appreciate this little moment.
Overall, “Rapunzel and the Great Tree” is a great special and one of Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure’s best episodes in a while. This episode (finally!) continues Rapunzel’s character arc and the series’ major plot, while also developing Cassandra and Adira, as well as introducing a new villain. The visuals and musical score are excellent, and the episode does have an epic feel for the most part. The three new songs vary from good to cringey, and “Waiting in the Wings” doesn’t really fit with what we know of Cassandra, other than that she’s annoying and unlikable. I also would have liked for some plot elements to have been hinted at or foreshadowed prior to this episode, but in all honesty, I would find it easy to believe these writers simply don’t think ahead like that. This was a very enjoyable episode, and it warrants the longer runtime.